October 08, 2007

Paradise By Way of Kensal Green

It was a chilly day yesterday, but sunny enough, and a perfect afternoon to stroll down to Portobello Market. S and I walked along college road, away from home, breathing in the fresh, crisp air. Instead of walking along Harrow Road, which is full of cars and buses, we slipped behind the brick wall that follows its contour and moseyed through the cemetery paths.

There was instant peace and calm in the faces of the stone angels and the slow movements of the tree leaves scuttling along the trails. I remembered being in Scotland, right outside the castle a group of friends and I called home one weekend, three years ago in a chilly November. To access the castle, the paths led us between two ancient cemeteries and we walked through them talking about death and how it has shaped our lives. That was before my grandfather passed away, so I didn't really know death then.

But this time, with S, as we walked hand in hand past rose bushes and cracked old stones that listed the names of people who were once loved, who may have even walked those same paths as we were then, I knew death. And it was harder to talk about it but, as you do in cemeteries, we did. And I learned about his family and his character what I did not know, and when you are allowed into the depths of someone's heart, you feel a closeness with that person. It is a privilege.

When we came to the exit, we were tossed back into the noise of the city streets, the exhaust and chug of the red double deckers and the bendy buses and the groups of kids biking past on the sidewalks. We walked over the canal bridge and past the council houses and the old fire station, until we came to the beginning of the market stalls.

I've always liked Portobello Market, where the movie Notting Hill is based. There's an unusual honesty in the smiles of the vendors and I found a pair of Prada heels for £40 that I would have bought if I had the money. It's an antiques market mainly, full of knick-knacks, pottery and vintage prints, second-hand boots and books with yellowed pages. There are Beatles records and pearly hair clips, stuffed moose heads and the smell of the spicy falafel stand.

Then I smelled something that seemed to pull me through the stalls to its source. It was the unmistakable autumn scent of mulled wine, the slightly spicy, fruity, comforting spread of warmth through the bones on a chilly day. S bought me one and I shared it with him while we walked the length of the market and talked about life.

Down the road, we ducked into a toy shop. It was a small shop with tiny old collectibles, all safe behind glass in cases. There was a sign behind the desk that said, “No shoplifting. Persecutors will be prosecuted. (Stomped on!!).” Tiny smurf figures stood beside Tom and Jerry glasses and old Pez dispensers. I even found some circular Simpson's playing cards.

After two hours of walking, we headed home, back through the market, past sushi restaurants and pubs we made note to revisit. We stopped in a little food hall for a tub of Hagan-daaz Baileys ice cream and then in a little shop run by a group of Afghan men where colourful throws were hung along the back walls and sparkly sandals were piled high in baskets in the corner.

Instead of walking home the way we came, we went up Kilburn Lane and found a pub I've wanted to try for a while. It's called Paradise By Way of Kensal Green. It's a Gothic sort of building with an interior reminiscent of the cemetery we walked through earlier that day – shabby grey walls and long vintage cracked mirrors next to big red leather arm chairs and sofas. We sat in a little side room on a red leather sofa, next to a fire place and a wall that had bookshelves full of fake old dictionaries that looked real.
S ordered a Spitfire beer and I had a red wine. It was a smoky Australian wine and it went straight to my head. I felt fuzzy and told him all about how the pub got its name. That is, by this poem by G.K. Chesterton who died in 1936:
“My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green."
After our drinks, we realized we had better rescue our slowly melting tub of ice cream and found our way home. Sean cooked for me. We ate a stirfry with tuna steak and spring rolls and had cranberry juice to drink. Instead of eating in the lounge in front of the TV, we set up a cardboard box as a table and sat on the floor in my room like we used to, just talking after a fantastic afternoon.

1 comment:

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